“How can the French do this? Get rid of their king in an afternoon?” That’s Victoria (Jenna Coleman) at the start of Season 3, and that sound you can here is ITV’s drama chiming in with modern times. Because yes, as the UK is engulfed in divisions and political turmoil, Victoria is taking us back to 1848, a time when Victoria found herself at the threat of reform from the Chartists.
Except, of course, we know that a fiery revolution doesn’t take place. That, however, doesn’t stop the show from trying to egg it for all the drama it can. It’s egged perhaps a little too much by the writers, as we hear speeches about inequality, the overlooked working class and the perceived plight of the blue collar man. But the show does its best to dovetail that national unrest with some personal drama: ousted by a revolution abroad, up pops on the palace doorstep none other than Victoria’s half-sister, Feodora (Kate Fleetwood), from Germany. Within a few episodes, we’ve pegged her as a wrong ‘un, as she plays chess with Albert and wears dark red dresses – clearly a woman preparing to manipulate the royal household to her own ends.
At the same time, there’s antagonism from Lord Palmerston (Lawrence Fox), who is something of a womaniser and delights in France overthrowing its king (Louis Philippe, who takes refuge in England). Victoria’s support of Louis Philippe, though, only helps to put greater pressure on the monarchy. And, with another child on the way, that pressure is just as much at home as it is at work.
And so the stage is set for some delicate balancing of internal and external conflicts, but Victoria’s third season just can’t get the balance right, from the Chartists who don’t really go anywhere to the marital strain that we’re becoming a little too accustomed to by now. While Tom Hughes is excellent as the malcontent Prince Albert, there are only so many times we can see him throw a petulant strop without it becoming repetitive – his character’s willingness to confident in Feodora almost immediately as is illogical as Victoria’s repeated decisions to forgive Albert for the latest dunderheaded wrong he’s committed. One episode that sees the pair writing letters to each other to carry on an argument swiftly becomes tedious. A brief diversion to Ireland, meanwhile, is a nice thought to tie in with the wider, topical themes, but feels more like padding than anything historically notable.
But the cast of Victoria are so effective at playing their parts that, if you can forgive the occasionally uneven pacing and wobbly scripting, it’s simply fun to hang out with this ensemble once again. Kate Fleetwood and Lawrence Fox are clearly having a ball as their pair of pot-stirrers, while Coleman never misses an opportunity to dress down the idiots around her; a scene that sees her debunk phrenology (Bertie, it seems, may not have the right-shaped head to be a king) is a joy. Which only makes it more frustrating when she gladly apologises to Albert, after he insults her by saying her intellect is overtaxed. If our central romance doesn’t always engage, though, there’s added bonus fun of seeing Duchess Sophie and foot servant Joseph hooking up upstairs, downstairs and anywhere else they can get away with – because Victoria is smart enough to know that its audience needs a bit of steamy excitement.
By the end of the season, Napoleon has proclaimed himself emperor, Lord Palmerston is eyeing up the post of Prime Minister, and Albert is focusing on his Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace – both promising signs that after an entertaining but lacklustre third outing, ITV’s royal drama is paving the way for new chapters in the history books, some of which, eventually, won’t have Albert in at all. Until then, this enjoyable season is an easy binge that one could get through in even less time than it took for the French to get rid of their king.
Victoria Season 3 is available on ITV Hub until 12th June 2019.